A message for Easter, 2015 ~ from Mark 16:1-8
A Real-Life Resurrection
Mark’s story is only 8 verses. The whole gospel builds up over 15 chapters of breathless narrative to this climactic moment – and before you’ve even settled in to listen, before you’ve even tuned your mind in to the words, it’s over. In some ways, Easter is just like that. Lots of anticipation, lots of preparation, lots of buildup, and then in a single hour of a single morning it’s over.
Our preparations for Easter day are often monumental. In a church, there is music to learn, services to prepare, details to work through, volunteers to recruit, events to plan – it takes months. In a family and among friends, you are planning dinners and lunches and parties, filling eggs, buying the food, perhaps gifts, sometimes new clothes – arranging everything just so, for the celebration of the resurrection. For that is, after all, how you should celebrate a resurrection.
Except in Mark. Mark’s story is just no way to run a resurrection. His story gives us only the bare bones, then leaves us confused and bewildered at the end. We can begin on Friday, the afternoon Jesus was crucified. Ordinarily his body would have been taken down and anointed for burial with spices. But because the Sabbath began on Friday at sundown, they quickly buried Jesus in a borrowed tomb, which was more like a cave. So they rolled the stone over the entrance, and waited until the Sabbath was over. Sunday morning, at first light, was the earliest opportunity the disciples had to go and anoint the body. So Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, and very early on the Sunday morning they went to the tomb.
You might expect to hear other names on this list. If you’ve been reading the gospels and following the characters, you might expect to hear that Peter, James, and John went to anoint the body. They were the three Jesus invited to go with him to the Mount of Transfiguration and see him transformed before their eyes; they were the three that Jesus invited to the garden to pray with him; by all accounts they were closest to Jesus. You might expect they would rise early to anoint the body; at least to move the stone! But no. They are nowhere to be found in Mark’s story. They are scattered; they are hiding; they are afraid; they are bereft; and perhaps, especially for Peter, there is shame.
So Mary, and Mary, and Salome pull together what money they can find and buy the expensive spices to go and anoint the body. Along the way, it occurs to them there’s problem. Who will roll the stone away? The cave had a large round stone that was rolled in front to seal the opening. The stone was sort of like a large millstone, and rolled into a track that was cut in the rock. Who was going to roll that heavy stone out of the way? I imagine more than once these faithful disciples wondered why Peter, James, or John, or any of those eleven disciples weren’t with them. Why weren’t they there to help?
The whole picture that Mark paints for us is a disorganized and broken affair on that first Easter morning. If Disney made a movie called the Resurrection of Jesus, it wouldn’t be this. Perhaps there would be a crowd at the tomb; surely the heroes of the movie would be there, Peter, James and John. But Mary the Mother of James, and Salome – -they would never the make the cut in the Disney version. We’ve never even heard of Salome before this! No way to run a resurrection!
We so try hard to make Easter perfect, to make it outstanding as a church in worship; to make it perfect for our families. But Mark shows us the disciples at their worst. The cheering crowds are gone. The eleven men are scattered. Three women have scraped together what little money women had in that time and place to buy some spices; and there’s no one there to roll away the stone. Not only is it disorganized, but embedded in this Easter morning is some of the saddest failure narrated in the Bible. The people, the closest friends, whom Jesus called and nurtured and walked with for three years have abandoned him. Especially Peter, his very good friend, whom he believed in so much, betrayed him at the very hour of his need. And now that he has died and been buried, they cannot even organize a funeral. It’s a sad mess, and certainly not our picture of Easter morning.
But I want you to know and hear on this Easter morning that this is when the resurrection happens. The Resurrection is not a Disney movie: it’s not perfect, it’s not well-scripted, it doesn’t go smoothly – like our own lives! Instead it is God’s good news for this real world. Some of you may have come this morning like the women to the tomb, with lots of love but not much else. Some of you may have come to worship feeling more like the disciples who were hiding. Perhaps you thought, “I want to go to church on Easter. I’ll put on my best face, my smile, and I’ll be there. But I am so burned out; so stressed; so overwhelmed I just want to hide.” The good news of Easter is that Jesus is Risen into the real world, and into our real lives. You don’t have to hide the mess, you don’t have to pretend about the pain; you don’t have to patch any broken places. Because Jesus rises into a mess, and into pain, and into brokenness.
Christian faith is not about closing your eyes and pretending everything is okay; and Christian faith that you just escape from the world one day when God takes you to heaven. You don’t have to read the newspaper and skip over the bad news, or flip past sad news. You don’t have to drive through grinding poverty and hopelessness and pretend the problems don’t exist. Christian faith is about faith in what God is doing here and now. The Resurrection is about the grace of God here and now, in the mess. It is about new creation, and new power and new hope here and now.
The women were walking to the tomb, and when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. What grace! The one concern on their mind, what had occupied their thoughts for the whole walk, was taken care of. The stone was moved. So they crouched low, and walked into that small cave. And there, sitting on the right side of the cave, was a young man dressed in a white robe. I would have jumped out of my skin – and perhaps they did too. But Mark is more literary, and says simply that they were alarmed.
And then, there was more grace.This young man, who was obviously some kind of heavenly messenger, says, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified– you have not wandered into the wrong tomb – but he is not here, he has been raised. Look, that’s where they laid him.” There was nothing that could have prepared these women for that moment; not in their wildest imaginations could they imagined this would have happened. Here in this broken moment, God met them with overwhelming grace and overwhelming good news.
Today we celebrate an event that happened long ago; but we also celebrate a present reality that is available now to you and me, and all who call on the name of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is about God’s new creation here and now. The Resurrection of Jesus is the invasion of grace into lives that are trapped in judgment and fear; it is the power of God that breaks into pain and hopelessness to make a way out of no way; it is the power of God that breaks into guilt and shame with perfect love and forgiveness; it is the power of God that casts a bright light of justice and wholeness on a world that lost in shades of gray. The Resurrection of Jesus is the new creation is that God offers to us now, that breaks through our shadows like shafts of light on a dark Easter morning.
When we say, “He is Risen,” it is not only good news for a single hour on a single Sunday. We confess by faith most marvelous news anyone has ever received. Behold, God is making all things new!